Sports Minister Kiren Rijiju called the passing away of Milkha Singh a ‘sad day for the entire sports fraternity’.
The 91-year-old died at a hospital in Chandigarh on Friday after a month-long battle with COVID-19, during which he lost his wife and former national volleyball captain Nirmal Kaur to the same ailment.
“Today is a very sad day for the entire sports fraternity of our country. We are deeply saddened by the passing away of the legendary Flying Sikh of our country, Milkha Singh. With the passing of Milkha Singh, I feel that a big chapter in the world of sports has come to an end today,” Kiren Rijuju told ANI.
“That’s why I am going to Chandigarh now, along with the message of the Prime Minister, on behalf of our Sports Ministry, entire sports world, and sportspersons. Milkha Singh Ji was not only a simple athlete but also a great player and an example for the youth of our country. Milkha Singh’s wife left us a few days ago, she was also a very big player, captain of India’s volleyball team, and had played for the country.”
“The passing away of Milkha Singh Ji and his wife is a big loss for me and for the entire country, we have lost our original star. When I met Milkha Singh Ji, he expressed his desire that he has many things to discuss with us, so I told him that I will soon come to meet him and would talk about creating a pathway for the future of sports in the country. In the meantime due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I was not able to meet him, and today when I am going, it’s to see him off for the last time.”
Popularly known as the Flying Sikh, Singh was the first Indian athlete to win a gold medal at the Commonwealth Games in the 400m division in 1958. He narrowly missed out on an Olympic medal, finishing fourth at the 400m final of the 1960 Rome Games.
Singh represented India at the Olympics in 1956, 1960 and 1964 and is a four-time Asian Games gold-medallist and 1958 Commonwealth Games champion.
In fact, Milkha Singh is still the only Indian athlete to win Gold in the Asian and Commonwealth Championship and was also honoured with the Padma Shri, India’s fourth-highest civilian honor.
“Don’t want to discuss awards but Milkha Singh Ji’s life is an award in itself, for everyone and for the country, that’s why today the whole country is engulfed in mourning even after he left the game so many years ago. There are very few people like Dhyan Chand and Milkha, whom we keep remembering after so many years, these few names are immortal. That’s why I want to tell you that the right tribute to Milkha Singh Ji will be when we will follow the path shown by him and adopt his message in our lives. Not everyone can become Milkha Singh,” Kiran Rijju said.
The Sports Minister also said that India’s squad for Tokyo Olympics will complete Milkha Singh’s dream of winning an Olympic medal in athletics.
“At this time there is an atmosphere of Olympics in the country and the Indian Olympic contingent which is also the biggest Olympic delegation in the history of our nation will aim to fulfill the dream of Milkha Singh Ji at Tokyo 2020. We will leave no stone unturned to fulfill a dream of his to win a medal in Olympic athletics. It was his dream which could not be fulfilled during his lifetime but I want to promise that we will fulfill Milkha Singh’s dream and we will bring Olympic medal in athletics as soon as possible.”
“After his last rites, we will discuss what the sports world can really give him, what we can do with my Sports Ministry to honour his memory,” Kiran Rijju pointed.
Milkha had a personal best time of 20.7 seconds in 200m which he managed on January 31, 1960 in Lahore. He set the national record of time of 45.6 seconds in the 400m final at the Rome Olympic Games on September 6.
“He missed by a fraction in Rome Olympics but was no match for others after that. On behalf of the sports world and on behalf of my ministry, I offer my condolences on his passing and at the same time pray that his soul rests in peace,” he said.